By Kimberly Morin
Today, the Raymond Police Department received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU NH) regarding their recent behavior on social media. The police department is currently requesting that Raymond voters agree to spend $6.8 million on a new police station. The current police station was built in the early 1990s. Some people in the community are questioning the need for a new police department and have expressed their concerns and/or dissent on the Raymond Police Department’s Facebook page.
Apparently the Raymond Police Department (RPD) doesn’t really like views that don’t agree with theirs. It started when two different Raymond residents posted comments on the RPD Facebook page that questioned the need for a new, and rather expensive, police department. Not only were comments deleted but the residents were blocked from posting their views at all on the page. Citizens also commented on the new Constitutional Carry law that went into effect recently and had their comments deleted.
The ACLU NH was notified of this behavior and sent a letter to the Raymond Chief of Police, David Salois, explaining that this is a violation of the 1st Amendment. There are actually court cases about this very issue that have happened elsewhere. From the ACLU’s letter:
The Department has embraced social media as a key means of communicating with the community it serves, including using its Facebook page to invite feedback from the community and to promote its position on various issues. This has included promoting the Department’s support for the upcoming police station bond vote (e.g., posts on January 17, 18, 20, 2017 etc.), as well as providing commentary on recent conceal carry legislation (e.g., February 22, 2017). 1
The page is set up as a public page and states that its purpose “is to allow and encourage communication with the public about topics of interest to the Department including its services, events and other news.” The page goes on to say that “[c]omments that are off topic, contain sexually explicit or obscene material, contain solicitations, harassing or threatening will be removed.”1 Indeed, it appears that Ms. Hanson was blocked following her posts on this February 22, 2017 thread.
The ACLU NH then goes on to explain court cases where precedent has been set regarding the public forum of social media. They further explain that while Dana Hanson’s view may have been critical, she was certainly within her 1st Amendment right to express them on the RPD’s public Facebook page:
As a publicly-funded police department, the Department invites members of its community to engage with it through Facebook in precisely the same way that Loudoun County and its officials did in Virginia. As is plain from the screenshots attached to this letter, far from being “off topic,” “sexually explicit,” or “obscene,” the speech that Ms. Hanson has engaged in demonstrates exactly the type of constituent engagement and dialogue the Department’s Facebook page encourages. Indeed, one of Ms. Hanson’s comments deleted by the Department addressing the recent conceal carry legislation stated: “I will say, this is a real eye opener for the residents of Raymond. How their local PD feels about them protecting themselves is paramount to a strong community bond. I’d be weary of putting my faith in the Raymond PD to have my families (and yours) best interest in mind.” Though obviously critical, this speech is precisely the type of political speech that is both constitutionally protected and that has been encouraged by the Department.
As more and more public agencies use social media to disperse information to their constituencies, they must understand the responsibility that comes with upholding the 1st Amendment rights of said constituencies. Ironically, the Raymond Police Department posted earlier today that they supposedly “encourage a vigorous and open debate.” From the RPD Facebook Page:
Prior to posting on the Raymond Police Facebook page look, over our page info tab, under the about section and also Facebook’s own Terms of Service, located at https://www.facebook.com/terms for posting guidance. These set required posts (profiles) guidelines.
Specifically, while we encourage a vigorous and open debate, we do not allow posts which violate those and unfortunately, we have had to report posts (profiles) for violating the above terms. Once Facebook reviews our reports and responds accordingly, further review on our end will occur.
Their actions speak louder than words. They clearly don’t support citizens who engage with their public page if they disagree with the RPD’s opinion, especially when it comes to the new police department they are pushing. Dana Hanson, who was one of the Raymond residents whose comments were deleted and who was then summarily blocked from commenting on the page had the following to say about it:
I am very upset with how the Raymond Police Department has handled opposing opinions on their Facebook page. I hope that the officers respect a difference in opinion but more importantly, our first amendment rights. This is troubling and makes me worry about ever voicing my opinion again publicly in town.
Given the taxpayers of Raymond pay for the police department and any services they provide, including running their Facebook page, the residents of Raymond should indeed be heard on said page. If a public agency can’t handle dissenting or critical voices, maybe they should look into why there are dissenting and critical voices rather than simply suppressing those people whom they also serve. It also doesn’t fare well for the Raymond Police Department or the town in general that citizens feel they cannot speak up. That’s not how local government is supposed to work.
The entire letter from ACLU NH can be read below, including evidence of deleted comments:3.10.17 Raymond PD Letter